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Fonda farm hand sentenced in Arizona smuggling case

Wednesday, March 26, 2014 - Updated: 10:18 AM

By HEATHER NELLIS

heather.nellis@recordernews.com

PHOENIX -- Under the guise of working as a full-time farm hand in Fonda, officials say a Guatemalan native in four months' time made more than $70,000.

But it wasn't from milking cows at $8.50 an hour.

Joel Mazariegos-Soto, 29, was arrested by federal homeland security investigators in April 2013 in connection with an illegal alien smuggling business in Phoenix he reportedly operated from his Fonda residence.

"Mazariegos-Soto, a leader of this alien smuggling organization, operated the illegal business from the assumed anonymity of Fonda," according to a news release from to U.S. Attorneys Office in Arizona.

He was sentenced to five years in federal prison March 17, the release said.

In December, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering, and conspiracy to transport and harbor illegal aliens.

Mazariegos-Soto was arrested after a four-month investigation; prompted when federal agents in October 2012, tipped of by a confidential source, discovered one of several "stash houses" in Arizona containing more than 27 illegal aliens.

Another Arizona stash house was found in January 2013 with more than 40 illegal aliens, the release said.

Mazariegos-Soto laundered money by moving it through an illegal "funnel" account, wired to the confidential source's bank accounts, the complaint says.

The operation required families of illegal aliens in the United States to make deposits into a bank account, which would be accessed by his "alien smugglers" working in the Phoenix area before they would bring their family members across the border from Mexico into the United States.

The confidential source reportedly met with smugglers on at least 17 separate occasions, and provided them with at least $66,000.

Walfre David Perez-Jovel operated one of the Phoenix stash houses, police said. In January last year, agents conducted surveillance of one of the houses in Mesa, Ariz.

Two vans arrived at the residence, and departed a short time later. Agents initiated traffic stops on each of the vans, and located 13 illegal aliens in the luggage compartments of both vehicles.

"Perez-Jovel not only harbored illegal aliens, but also coordinated the illegal transportation of undocumented persons ... in a manner that was reckless and dangerous," the news release said.

Perez-Jovel was arrested in Lake Worth, Fla., two months after Mazariegos-Soto's arrest in Fonda. Investigators say Perez-Jovel fled from Mesa after they interdicted the January 2013 transport. He was also sentenced March 17 to 46 months in federal prison.

Investigators linked Mazariegos-Soto to the operation when they found Bank of America ledgers under the name Joel Mariegos-Perez. In a search warrant of one of the smuggler's homes, investigators found a handwritten note with his real name, and a bank account number.

The criminal complaint filed against Mazariegos-Soto says the confidential source pegged him as the leader of the operation, which reportedly started in June 2012.

Investigators later picked up Mazariegos-Soto, and during an interview in Latham, he told them he put people interested in being smuggled into the United States in touch with smugglers, and assisted them in collected fees. He also reportedly admitted he is also known as Mariegos-Perez.

The investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations in Phoenix, West Palm Beach, Fla., and Albany.

The prosecution was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristen Brook.

Court documents indicate Mazariegos-Soto is appealing his case.

     

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